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Types of Muscle Contraction During Running

author image Warren Rosenberg
A professor of allied health science and member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Warren Rosenberg has been writing since 1979 on topics including health and fitness. His works include the college textbooks "Exercise Science" and "Integrated Science." As a professional photographer, he provides photographs to textbook publishers, magazines and websites. He holds a Ph.D. from New York University.
Types of Muscle Contraction During Running
A woman is running up stadium stairs. Photo Credit: lzf/iStock/Getty Images

The movements that take place during activities such a running are due to the contraction of skeletal muscles pulling on bones which move at flexible pivot points, or joints. The several types of contractions that occur within skeletal muscles during running include isotonic concentric and isotonic eccentric contractions. Contractions also occur within your slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers.

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Concentric and Eccentric

Muscle contraction involves the interaction of microscopic filaments of actin and myosin within each muscle cell, or fiber, in which finger-like projections on the myosin filament grasp and pull each actin filament. When this contraction results in shortening of the muscle, as in the lifting motion of a biceps curl, it is called a concentric contraction. Contraction that occurs as your muscle lengthens under stress, for example, lowering the weight in a biceps curl, is referred to as an eccentric contraction.

Isotonic and Isometric

The most typical muscle contractions are those that result in movement such as the shortening movements of muscle in concentric contractions or lengthening in eccentric contractions. Contraction associated with such movement is called isotonic contraction. Imagine trying lo lift an immovable object such as a barbell with 1,000 lbs. of weight. Your muscles would contract, tension would develop but nothing would move and your muscle wouldn't shorten. This type of contraction, tension without shortening, is called an isometric contraction.

Concentric Contractions During Running

During the running motion, the action of raising your thigh and bending your knee involve concentric isotonic contractions of your hip flexor and knee flexor (hamstring) muscles. As you straighten your leg to push off the ground in the motion that will propel you forward, your hip extensor (hamstrings, gluteus maximus) and knee extensor (quadriceps) muscles are engaged in concentric isotonic contractions

Eccentric Contractions During Running

Eccentric isotonic contractions occur most notably during downhill running. During a normal, flat run, the knee extensors or quadriceps muscles contract to straighten your leg. When running downhill, the quadriceps will contract eccentrically as your knee begins to bend after contacting the ground in an effort to prevent your knee from bending too far and too fast. In addition, the tibialis anterior muscle on the front of your shin also contracts eccentrically to control the downward motion of your foot after your heel strikes the running surface.

Fast-Twitch and Slow-Twitch

Each of your muscles is made of a combination of two types of muscle cells, or fibers, known as fast-and slow-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers are just that, they contract rapidly but are not capable of long endurance. Slow-twitch fibers, while they contract more slowly, can handle endurance events quite easily. When you begin running at a relatively slow pace, you do so using predominantly slow-twitch fiber contractions. As you speed up your pace, your recruit more of the fast-twitch fibers to contract.

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